The names of Berlin’s vast State Museums hardly hint at what can be seen in the different buildings on Museumsinsel, Kulturforum, and beyond. Collections are better named but often spread through different museums.
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State or national museums) in Berlin have some of the world’s largest and most important collections of art and cultural objects. The names of the different museums do not often reveal what can be seen inside: the antiquities in the Old Museum are newer than the Egyptian works in the New Museum. Bode Museum? It does not even mean anything particular in German – it is a surname. Hamburger Bahnhof / Hamburg Station? The last train departed in 1884. The names of the individual collections or the various museums grouped in a single building generally gives a much better indication of what is on show.
The Main Collections of the Berlin State Museums
The Berlin State Museums’ vast collections of items from antiquity, the ancient Near East, Byzantium, and Islamic art are spread over the museums on Museum Island. Non-European art and culture (Asian Art and Ethnological Collection) have moved from Dahlem with the museums due to open in the Humboldt Forum in the reconstructed Berlin Schloss on Museum Island during 2020.
European (or western) paintings and sculptures are divided throughout the city but the largest concentration is in Kulturforum and on Museumsinsel:
- 13th to 18th-century paintings (Old Masters) are in the Gemäldegalerie (Paintings Gallery).
- Late 18th century to First World War works are in the Alte Nationalgalerie.
- Early 20th century to 1960s works are in the Neue Nationalgalerie (currently closed for renovation).
- Contemporary art is displayed in the Hamburger Bahnhof.
- Medieval to 18th-century sculptures are mostly in the Bode Museum and from spring 2020 also again in the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche
Museumsinsel Berlin / Museum Island
The most famous and most important museums in Berlin are on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in the heart of Berlin Mitte. Most museums here focus on antiquities but the Old National Gallery has 19th-century art, while the Ethnological and Asian Art collections will move into the rebuilt Berlin Schloss / Humboldt Forum in 2020.
This island in the Spree River was for centuries at the heart of Berlin. The Prussian royal palace, recently rebuilt, was here and was joined by various museums during the nineteenth century. These buildings were extensively damaged during the Second World War and only properly restored at the end of the 20th century.
Work continues to link most of the museums on the island via underground passages and adding a new visitors center – the James-Simon-Galerie opened in July 2019 as the main entrance to the Pergamon and Neues Museum. Some museums – including the Pergamon Museum – are being restored in phases with certain galleries periodically closed to visitors.
Pergamonmuseum / Pergamon Museum
The Pergamon is being restored and parts of the museum, including the famous Pergamon Altar, are likely to be closed until 2026. The museum remains partly open while some statues from the Pergamon Altar may seen in the temporary and separate Panorama Exhibition.
The museum originally completed in 1930 is most famous for the reconstructions of the large archaeological structures: the Pergamon Altar (this hall is closed until probably 2026!), Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Mshatta Façade.
The main collections in the Pergamon Museum are:
- Antikensammlung – a large part of the antiquities collection (rest in the Altes Museum and Neues)
- Vorderasiatisches Museum – Art from the Ancient Near East
- Museum für Islamische Kunst – Islamic Art from the 7th to 19th centuries.
Neues Museum / New Museum
The Neues Museum is in a mid-19th-century building by Friedrich August Stüler but was seriously damaged during the Second World War.
Ironically, the New Museum now houses a collection even older than the antiquities in the Old Museum:
- Ägyptischen Museum und Papyrussammlung – Egyptian art, including the bust of Queen Nefertiti, and a large papyrus collection.
- Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte – prehistoric and early historic objects from all parts of the Old World.
- Antikensammlung – a small part of the antiquities collection, especially works from Roman provinces.
It is with the Pergamon the top museums in Berlin and requires time-slot tickets – buy from Tiqets as mobile phone tickets.
Entrance to the Neues Museum is either through the Simon James Gallery or from the older entrance across the square from the Alte Nationalgalerie.
Alte Nationalgalerie / Old National Gallery
The Alte Nationalgalerie was the third museum on the island and opened in a neo-classical temple-like building in 1876. It is still the home of the national art collection, although it is now so large that several buildings in Berlin are used to display the paintings and sculptures.
The collection in the Alte Nationalgalerie:
- Mostly 19th-century paintings and sculptures. Around 400 paintings and 100 sculptures are on display from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.
Altes Museum / Old Museum
The Alte Museum is a neo-classical building with 18 Ionic columns designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s.
The Altes Museum now houses the:
- Antikensammplung – the largest part of the antiquities collection with art from the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. (The rest of the collection is in the Pergamon and Neues Museum.)
- Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection) – ancient minting (rest of the collection is in the Bode Museum.)
The Bode Museum opened in 1904 as the Kaiser Friedrich Museum but is now known after its original builder. The building was seriously damaged during the Second World War and only reopened in 2006.
The Bode Museum houses the:
- Skulpturensammlung – sculptures from the Middle Ages to late 18th century enhanced by 150 paintings from the Gemäldeglerie.
- Museum für Byzantinische Kunst – art from Byzantium from late antiquity to early Middle Ages.
- Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection) – one of the largest collections of coins, seals, and medallions in the world.
Humboldt Forum in Berliner Schloss
Dahlem’s famous non-European collections will reopen in the new Humboldt Forum in the rebuilt Berlin Schloss on Museum Island in 2020:
- The Etnologisches Museum / Ethnological Museum has an enormous collection of artworks and cultural objects from outside Europe. The focus points are African art, American archaeology, items from the South Seas, and Islamic culture.
- The Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Museum for Asian Art has one of the most important collections in Europe of Asian art from the 3rd century to the present.
Friedrichwerdersche Kirche / Friedriechwerder Church
A contemporary of the Altes Museum and also designed by Schinkel, the Neo-Gothic Friedrichwerdersche Kirche was the first large brick building built in Germany since the Middle Ages. Due to structural problems, the church was closed but it is due to re-open in the spring of 2020.
The church is used by the Nationalgalerie to exhibit part of its collection of early 19th century sculptures – covering the period of Schinkel. The church is just off Museumsisland across the Spree Canal.
Kulturforum / Cultural Forum in Berlin Tiergarten
The Kulturforum / Cultural Forum is a collection of purpose-built museums and cultural centers. The focus here is European art.
Most buildings here were built during the Cold War, at a time when the reunification of Germany seemed impossible. In addition to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin buildings, the area is also home to the Berliner Philharmonie.
Gemäldegalerie / Paintings Gallery
The contract for the building of the Gemäldegalerie was awarded only three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. By the time the modern building was finished, the divided collections could be united leaving the Gemäldegalerie with one of the most important collections of European Old Masters art in the world.
- The painting on display in the Gemäldegalerie are mostly European art from the 13th to 18th centuries. The main focus points are German and Italian art from the 13th to 16th centuries and Dutch art from the 15th to 17thcenturies (including 16 works by Rembrandt).
Kupferstichkabinett / Museum of Prints and Drawings
The Kupferstichkabinett Berlin is the largest collection of prints and drawings in Germany and the fourth largest in the world. Its collection of 550,000 prints and 100,000 drawings spans a thousand years and ranges from Andy Warhol to Dürer and illuminated manuscripts. Visitors enjoy frequently changing temporary exhibitions and the possibility to request viewings of specific works.
Neue Nationalgalerie / New National Gallery
The Neue Nationalgalerie opened in 1968 as the last building designed by Mies van der Rohe. Its name signaled the break from the Old National Gallery at the time behind the Berlin Wall. The museum has been closed since 2015 for renovation.
- Neue Nationalgalerie is filled with 20th-century art from around the end of the First World War to the late 1960s. (Contemporary art is in the Hamburger Bahnhof.)
Kunstbibliothek / Art Library
A huge library of art and cultural works with occasional special exhibitions.
Kunstgewerbemuseum / Museum of Decorative Arts
Decorative arts from the early Middle Ages to the present, large collection of clothes from the 18th century to the present.
Musikinstrumenten-Museum / Musical Instruments
The Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Musical Instruments) is not part of the state museums but is absolutely worth seeing and shared the same Kulturforum ticket. Around 800 musical instruments are on display including a working Wurlitzer theater organ.
Other Berlin State Museums
Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin is one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world. The former station was already converted into a museum in 1916 but the name stuck.
The Hamburger Bahnhof displays contemporary art from the 1970s to the present. It is only two blocks from the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It stages a variety of temporary exhibitions every year.
Museums in Berlin Charlottenburg
The collections of the museums in and near Schloss Charlottenburg have mostly left for Museum Island since the reunification of Germany. Two art galleries across the road from Schloss Charlottenburg remain part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In contrast to the rest of the National Gallery, both these centers are mostly based on specialized originally private collections.
- The Museum Berggruen displays mostly Classical modern art including works by Picasso, Klee, and Matisse.
- The Sammlung (Collection) Scharf-Gerstenberg includes art of the fantastic, especially a large Surrealist collection.
Museum für Fotografie / Photography Museum
The Museum für Fotografie / Photography Museum has a permanent exhibition of Helmut Newton works and large temporary exhibitions of photos owned by various other museums. This museum is to the west of the Zoologischer Bahnhof station.
Museum Europäischer Kulturen / European Cultures
The Museum Europäischer Kulturen / Museum of European Cultures shows every-day items, rather than high art, from the contacts between different cultures in Europe since the 18th century. It is the only museum that remained in the 1960s museum building in Dahlem in the southwest of Berlin.
Schloss Köpenick is a Baroque palace commissioned by Friedrich I of Prussia. It is in the far eastern outskirts of Berlin and thus rarely visited by casual visitors to Berlin.
- Schloss Köpenick is used by the Museum of Decorative Arts to display items from the 16th to 18th century.
More on the Berlin State Museum (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
For more general information on the Berlin State Museums:
- Top National Museum and Galleries in Berlin (brief overview)
- Berlin State Museum What Is Seen Where? (a short description of the collections in the different museums)
- Berlin State Museums Opening Hours (9 to 5 was always going to be too simple)
- Ticket Prices for Berlin State Museums (prices for museums, temporary exhibitions, combination tickets, online time-slot reservations). Buying online from Tiqets or GetYourGuide is a lot simpler and cost the same as the official museum website.
- Save with the Berlin Museum Pass – 30 museums in three days for €29 – a fantastic savings deal.
- The Welcome Berlin Card All-Inclusive is pricy but includes admission to all museums and top sights.
- Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (official website in German & English)
News & Temporary Exhibitions:
- Top Special Exhibitions in 2020: Highlights, in Kulturforum, on Museum Island, in the Hamburger Bahnhof, and smaller museums.
- For special contemporary art exhibitions in 2019 in Berlin see the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart and
- Top Temporary Art Exhibition in Berlin for other major special exhibitions in 2019.
- The Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Schloss should open during 2020.
- The Friederichswerdersche Kirche will reopen spring 2020, as an exhibition space for sculptures of the Alte Nationalgalerie.
- The James Simon Gallery opened in summer 2019 and is an additional entrance to the Pergamon and Neues Museum.
- The Neue Nationalgalerie with twentieth-century art (up to 1970) remains closed for renovations.
More Museums Reviews and Museum Specific Information: